A Stylish Rustic Retreat

By Jenn Rose Smith
eclectic bedroom with twin beds

About 50 miles west of Austin (and 50 miles north of San Antonio) sits the historic town of Blanco. It’s known around central Texas for it’s pioneer-style town square and beautiful riverfront park.  As hill country towns go, Blanco is still relatively undiscovered — the population was still under 2,000 during the last census. The tiny Texas town was the perfect backdrop for designer Sarah Wittenbraker‘s well-traveled clients, who enlisted her to transform a fixer-upper into their dream country family retreat. “Not only was this project very meaningful for me, but so are the people who life here,” says Sarah of her Blanco clients.”They’re the most giving, gracious and downright fun family, I’m so grateful they trusted me with this special home.” Read on to discover how Sarah created a stylish rustic space for her clients with a big dose of Texas style.

photographed by minta maria

Tell us a little about the clients you designed this space for. What was their vision for the space?

My clients are New Orleans natives who now are empty-nesters in Austin. They wanted a place outside of the city to let their grandchildren run, host big family dinners, and breathe a little country air. This property in Blanco was the perfect fixer-upper on a gorgeous property. They wanted to keep the casual and traditional vibe of the original house to accommodate their extensive art and antique collection, while also integrating some modern updates.

When it comes to artwork, you’ve got some really fun and unexpected pieces in the mix here… how do you approach buying art for clients?

My clients travel extensively and collect along the way, and it was so fun to find a spot for all these treasures! If we’re starting from scratch, I toss out some inspiration photos to see what they are drawn too. Art is so personal, I really want the client to love it. We also do quite a bit of commissioned work if we can’t find that magic piece.

We’re dying over these hand painted headboards. Where do you source great antique pieces?

These twin beds are my favorite pieces in the home! My clients found them at James Powell Antiques years ago. We just had to find the perfect spot and accompanying accessories in the Blanco house. When shopping for antique and vintage, I like to look locally at Wendow, Jean Marc Fray, and the City Wide Garage Sale. I also love 1st Dibs. In fact, most of the light fixtures in this house were 1stDibs finds.

We love how you aren’t afraid to mix really graphic modern feeling patterns with some seriously antique objects. What’s your best advice for finding a great wallpaper?

What a gift to have such fun clients and beautiful antiques to work with! I say show no fear with wallpaper. The cost can be daunting, so pick a couple of small areas and be bold with the pattern. I’ve found that when we really push ourselves with a gutsy statement, it ends up being the favorite aspect of the design.

The canine gallery wall in the living room is so out of this world. Tell us about the collection:

My clients have been building this painting collection through the years, over trips to France, England and Ireland, and also have found some gems via Christie’s auctions. They truly love dogs! They have plenty of their own in Austin, and now have adopted ‘Popcorn,’ the gentle giant who pretty much came with the house. We plan for the gallery to grow and grow, as it brings a nice history, and even humor, to the room.

We love the custom steelwork of the fireplace surround and nooks for firewood. How involved are you in the architectural details of a project? Is that something you enjoy designing and working with as well?

The architect on the project was Michael Stouse, and yes, he did a wonderful job adding modern elements like the steel accents that jive seamlessly with this humble home. I like being very much involved in the architectural details. Everything should be speaking to each other: trim work, windows, fabric, tile, floors, etc.

Where do you find inspiration for your design work? Do you start at the fabric store, looking at existing architecture, etc?

I’m a fabric girl, for sure, and usually start with a textile scheme. Once the colors, patterns and textures of the fabrics and rugs start clicking, the design really comes to life. It gets me ridiculously excited. In this project, we kept upholstery fairy traditional, and injected some modern prints for a youthful edge.

What’s the hardest part about designing for someone other than yourself?

Sometimes it’s a challenge to get clients to take a major ‘risk’ and go big and bold with a design choice. It’s all expensive, so I totally understand making wise investments. But taking a leap with a bold light fixture or over-the-top wallpaper is like living with a gorgeous piece of art you can admire every day.

Describe your design for this home in five words or fewer:

City style, country comfort.

Finish this sentence: A well-designed home should ________.

Welcome, inspire, nurture.

check out more of sarah’s work here
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